Date February 29, 2024
Media Contact

South African artist William Kentridge and collaborators share innovative artmaking approach at Brown

Through a dynamic, multi-part residency with the Brown Arts Institute through mid-June, Kentridge and artists from his Johannesburg-based arts incubator are engaging with the University community and beyond.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] —There’s an African proverb that goes something like, “When the good doctor can’t cure you, find the less good doctor,” explained South African artist William Kentridge.

Kentridge applies that ethos to artmaking at the Centre for the Less Good Idea, a Johannesburg-based arts organization that he co-founded with fellow artist Bronwyn Lace in 2016 as an incubator for experimental, collaborative and cross-disciplinary performance projects.

Artists from the center are in residence at Brown University through mid-June as part of the Brown Arts Institute’s IGNITE Series — a constellation of creative performances, visiting world-class artists and activations that launched last October with the opening of the University’s new Lindemann Performing Arts Center and will run through the end of 2024.

“With this residency, we are interested in seeing if the way we work — a reliance on being open to what emerges in the process of rehearsal, among other things — resonates further than Johannesburg,” Kentridge said. “So connections with outside institutions such as Brown are important to us.”

The multi-part residency kicked off in mid-February with a theatrical performance in Brown’s new Lindemann Performing Arts Center of the center’s “Houseboy,” which is based on the 1956 novel by Cameroonian diplomat Ferdinand Oyono. That was followed by a two-week workshop series focused on a theatrical illusion technique called “Pepper’s ghost,” which involves the projection of an image that is reflected onto the stage using a mirror to create a ghostly effect.

For two weeks, artists affiliated with Brown, the Rhode Island School of Design and local arts organizations worked with Lace and 10 South African artists-in-residence to create a series of short theatrical presentations that incorporated the Pepper’s ghost technique and explored themes related to memory. Many of the presentations also related to colonialism, an ongoing focus in Kentridge’s and the center’s work.

The goal, Lace said, is for several of the participating artists to eventually develop their pieces into longer works.

“They’re like little proposals,” Lace said. “Even though they’re very small fragments, we give them a level of production care and love that’s unusual for something at this stage of the creative process.”

The artists incorporated archival material from diverse sources — including the Natural History Museum in Vienna, BBC television footage and personal closets — into their performances.

“Through the Pepper’s ghost technique, the archival material is sort of de-objectified and brought into the present in a very real physical relationship with the performer or performance,” Lace said.

Brian Mertes, a professor of the practice at Brown and head of the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA directing program, participated in the workshop and invited students in his MFA directing course to observe part of it.

“One of the aspects of directing I focus on in the spring semester is something I call ‘creative flow,’” Mertes said. “That flow is based on your preparation and your ability to listen closely and be vulnerable to what’s happening in the room. My experience working with this group of artists has been like that for 10 hours a day, across many days, which is kind of astonishing. It’s rare to experience that creative concept functioning at such a high level, so it was wonderful to share it with students.”

The third and fourth part of the residency are scheduled for later this semester. On Tuesday, April 2, RISD Professor Leora Maltz-Leca will deliver a talk titled “Studio Process and Political Change: The Case of William Kentridge” at Martinos Auditorium in Brown’s Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. Maltz-Leca is the author of the book “William Kentridge: Process as Metaphor and other Doubtful Enterprises.”

The final offering is a triptych video installation that translates Kentridge’s 2012 flipbook, “No, It Is,” into a film format across three flat screens. On view from April 26 to June 16, the videos will run continuously in the Cohen Gallery in Brown’s Granoff Center.